Words don’t come easy and may not be enough to illustrate the processes, approaches, strategies and techniques in conciliation proceedings. It entails appropriate words to feature what transpires in a conciliation conference. But this writer, a novice Conciliator-Mediator, tried to put together what she learned as theory and applied to the actual conciliation proceedings. Others were drawn from the experiences of senior Conciliator-Mediators who are ahead of the profession.

Conciliation as defined by National Conciliation Mediation Board (NCMB) is conceived as a mild form of intervention by a neutral third party, the Conciliator, who relies on his persuasive expertise, who takes an active role in assisting parties by trying to keep disputants talking, facilitating other procedural niceties, carrying messages back and forth between the parties, and generally being a good fellow who tries to keep things calm and forward-looking in a tense situation.

Also, NCMB primer defines Mediation as a mild intervention by a neutral third party, the Mediator, who starts advising the parties or offering solutions or alternatives to the problems with the end in view of assisting them towards voluntary reaching their own mutually acceptable settlement of the dispute.

Then Executive Director of NCMB and later Secretary of DOLE, Rosalinda D. Baldoz, in her unpublished thesis “The Effectiveness of Conciliation Mediation in Labor Dispute Settlement and its Implication to National Security,“ said that in the Philippine situation, conciliation-mediation can be interchangeably used. Baldoz operationally defined conciliation-mediation as a third party assistance provided by Conciliator-Mediators of NCMB to labor disputes that are causing or likely to cause strikes and lockout. It connotes both the passive and more proactive roles of conciliators in helping parties to labor disputes, agree on their proposed solutions and for consideration.

It has become a fact that there is “no hard and fast rule in conciliation-mediation.” As time goes by, Conciliator-Mediators plot their own techniques, strategies, and approaches. Here are some of the techniques and approaches that were observed, applied, handed over, proven, and tested by this rookie conciliator-mediator during her immersion:

a. Exchange of Eagle’s Approach

An internet blogger by his pen name, Built2last, enumerated seven characteristics of an eagle. He wrote that eagles have vision. Eagles possess vitality and tenacity. Eagles are fearless, and high flyers. Eagles nurture their younger ones and never eat dead meat.

Tasked to arrive at a win-win settlement in a labor dispute, a conciliator-mediator must possess the characteristics enumerated by Built2last. As compared to an eagle that spread its mighty wings to soar to greater heights, a conciliator’s persuasive and   facilitative skill encourages parties to exchange proposals purposely to narrow the gaps of the disputing parties.   The conciliator-mediator takes up the challenges “head on,” conducting himself/herself as a   friendly, fair and fearless  fellow in the conduct of the conciliation proceedings.

b. Finding the Black Pope Approach

“Jesuit superior generals are known as “black popes” because, like the pontiff, they wield worldwide influence and usually keep their position for life — and because their simple cassock is black, in contrast to the pope who dresses in white.” http://reformation.org/general-adolfo-nicolas.html

 In conciliation-mediation proceedings, the conciliator finds the “Black Pope” who can authoritatively decide on the issues raised in the preventive mediation, notice of strike or lockout, or in the requests for assistance cases. The “Black Pope” comes from either management or union, who has the blanket authority to decide, not a mere representative who relays the proposal and goes back to the conciliation table to convey its proposal or decision. Not finding the “Black Pope” means prolonging the   settlement or termination of the case.

c. Backdoor Channeling Approach

Dictionary.com defines “backdoor” as secret, furtive, illicit, and indirect.  When associated with conciliation-mediation, it is when the conciliator-mediator secretly negotiates and bargains with either of the disputing parties to arrive at an evident win-win solutions.  Others may see this approach as inappropriate, but sometimes negotiating separately yield positive results.

d. Top Level approach

The conciliator-mediator uses this approach when he networks with persons that possess authority to negotiate and to decide on the matters being discussed by the disputing parties.

The top-down and bottom-up communication lines are both applicable in conciliation depending on who dominates or holds the “lion’s share.” The conciliator-mediator finds the party who can negotiate and bargain effectively.

e. “Padrino” or Call a Friend Approach

Padrino System, or patronage in the Filipino culture and politics is the value system where one gains favor, promotion, or political appointment through family affiliation (nepotism) or friendship (cronyism), as opposed to one’s merit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padrino_System

In the conciliation-mediation proceedings, this Padrino system is helpful when parties arrived at an impasse.   Parties involved in the dispute often enlist others to support their perspective. The conciliator-mediator or any of the parties would consult a “friend,” who is respected by the parties and who is perceived to be in authority,  of unquestioned integrity  and  ability to help in resolving the issues raised by the complainants.

f. Solomonic Wisdom Approach

The Judgment of Solomon refers to a story from the Hebrew Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings. It has become an archetypal example of argument to moderation and that of an impartial judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Applying this approach in conciliation, the Conciliator-Mediator keeps his wit, wisdom and neutrality.  The conciliator-mediator may employ a trick to reveal the real agenda of the parties. He/she capitalizes on the weaknesses and strengths of the parties to arrive at a well-deserved solution. Moreover, when parties or stakeholders are not able to come to a negotiated resolution, the conciliator-mediator can change his/her role by acting as arbiter or arbitrator who render awards or decisions.

g. Chamber of Horror Approach

Wikipedia defines chamber of horror as an exhibit of scenes of torture, execution, and other horrible acts. Bringing this concept to conciliation entails a little acting role. The Conciliator-Mediator is constrained to utilize scary approaches such as threatening, bullying, giving a worst scenario when dispute is not resolved, or acting as judge in favor of the other. These techniques work in some cases when parties are tied with their positions that they no longer open doors for the resolution of the disputes.  Sometimes, fear can open doors leading to the resolution of disputes.

h. Envelopmental or Sweetener Approach

The word “envelopmental” appears in Urban Dictionary referring to a practice in journalism where journalists are given money in envelopes so they would write favorable reports about the person giving them money. It’s another term for payola. Envelopmental journalism is practiced by corrupt and greedy journalists.

In conciliation though, this is unacceptable or overstated. This approach as used in conciliation is having “secret deals” by the representatives of the disputing parties, which the members of the disputing party may not be aware of. Whatever is the content of the envelope, be it a proposal or money as trade off, remains a secret for as long as the dispute is put to rest. This is an  example of Machiavellian theory of “the end justifies the means.”

i. Shuttle Diplomacy Approach

The idea of shuttle diplomacy is said to have emerged from Henry Kissinger’s efforts in the Middle East in the early 1970s. He flew back and forth between Middle Eastern capitals for months in an effort to bring about peace after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. It is also called mediated communication.

When a Conciliator-Mediator shuttles, it means that he/she carries proposals and counter proposals back and forth during the proceedings. Sometimes and if necessary, the shuttling is done in private. Since it is a mediated communication, the Conciliator-Mediator keeps the parties talking by ferrying messages to avoid arguments, debates or confrontation between the disputing parties. Shuttling also neutralizes the tension, and is usually applied in critical cases.

j. Motion to See Each other Approach

As the term implies, disputing parties initiate a meeting or caucus with or without the presence of the conciliator-mediator in another venue before, during, or after the conciliation conferences. This meeting aims to start communication between groups and is perceived by either parties to be effective.

“Seeing each other” in another venue helps parties to develop options and solutions as they are not overstretched to decide. Stress changes how people make decisions.

k. Steam Off Approach

Steam off means letting out the heat. In conciliation-mediation, either of the parties come with their armors of peace, but most of the time armed with bursting anger, hatred, grievance, and objections on the issues raised.  This approach suggests that the conciliator-mediator allows parties to vent even in anger, in loud voices, and emotional breakdowns, while he/she listens attentively and empathically. Consequently, allowing emotional releases de-escalate tension. It helps parties to explore options because the heat was already diffused.

 Not found in books are experiences that chartered the conciliation-mediation system in the country. The former NCMB chief Reynaldo R. Ubaldo always shared his experiences as a conciliator-mediator, whenever his parties are difficult to manage and when his parties deadlocked. Whether it is creativity or for humor, Mr. Ubaldo had always bragged of his own inventive approaches which he said had become effective in dealing with disputes. These are conciliation by starvation, conciliation by entertainment, conciliation by intoxication and conciliation by exhaustion. Sounds weird but it works in case to case basis.

Gil G. Caragayan, 18 years conciliator-mediator now regional director of NCMB-CAR, shared that apart from the above approaches and strategies, he uses prayers as his best weapon in conciliating and mediating labor disputes. He said that praying can solve even the most difficult and critical cases. I agree!

Cresencia M. Pawingi